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Ferruccio BUSONI (1866-1924)
Seven Elegies (1907-8) [39.29]
Perpetuum Mobile (1921)
Seven Short Pieces (1923) [20.46]
Prelude and Etude in Arpeggios (1923) [8.54]
Roland Pöntinen (piano)
Rec 15-18 October 2001, 17 January 2002, Bolshoi Hall, Kammermusikstudio SWR Stuttgart
CPO 999 853-2 [72.56]



 

Busoni was one of the most important musicians of his generation: as composer, pianist, theorist, writer and teacher. He was among the finest pianists of a period rich in fine pianists, and his compositions for his own instrument inevitably lie at the centre of his creative achievement.

In 1907 he composed his collection of Seven Elegies (1907), claiming that they represented an important milestone in his development as a musician. Stylistically they reflect his creative preoccupations, with complex harmony, rich contrapuntal textures and expressive chromatic harmonies. Each of these pieces is a veritable tone poem along the lines established by Franz Liszt a generation before, and in several cases the point of reference is the Lutheran chorales which so often inspired Busoni’s favourite composer, Johann Sebastian Bach. Busoni explained: ‘I have expressed the very essence of myself in these Elegies. My intention is not to overthrow something existing, but rather to recreate something that exists.’

Roland Pöntinen’s CPO recital begins with the Elegies and is dominated by them. And rightly so, for this is important music by a master pianist-composer. Each of these pieces shares a common agenda yet has its own distinctive personality. Pöntinen knows and understands this. His playing is sensitive and strong, and the CPO recording supports his attention to detail with good, clear sound. The ongoing project of the talented British pianist Paul Lewis (for Harmonia Mundi) will offer a fierce rival, but Pöntinen remains very satisfying, supported by excellent and thorough documentation.

The other items are, on the whole, rather slighter. The exception is the Prelude and Fugue, work of towering virtuosity, and again inspired by the example of Bach. Conceived as part of a larger project, this piece stands magnificently on its own, the most powerfully extrovert music on this disc. Not that the other items are negligible. The Seven Short Pieces are contemporary with the Prelude and Fugue, forming part of Busoni’s Klavier-übung (Keyboard Practice), a veritable opus summus. In that sense the self-effacing title is a little misleading, for while none of the pieces extend to a lengthy span, their implications can be greater than their size. That is the challenge facing the performer, and it is a challenge that Pöntinen, as by now we might expect, can meet.

The remaining item is more of a trifle, the infectious Perpetuum Mobile of 1921. Interestingly, this is practically contemporary with Poulenc’s Mouvements Perpetuelles, though the style is rather different.

Terry Barfoot



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